Fundamental studies of biodegradable hydrogels as cartilage replacement materials.
Through intelligent control of monomer chemistry and gelling techniques, biodegradable hydrogels with a range of mechanical strengths and degradation timescales have been constructed. A diacrylated, copoly(ethylene glycol-b-dl-lactic acid) (PEG-b-PLA) macromer was used to produce synthetic networks with equilibrium water contents (EWC) above 70% and initial compressive moduli values exceeding 1 MPa, demonstrating its viability as a cartilage replacement material. Experiments have shown that the mechanical strengths, EWCs, and useful lifetimes of these water-swellable networks are coupled to their copolymer chemistry as well as their processing conditions. A systematic study utilizing photopolymerized gels has been undertaken to elucidate the controlling factors behind the bulk-degradation process, as well as monitor changes in network structure with degradation. A statistical model will be used in conjunction with the experimental data to explain the exponential modulus decay and complex mass loss behavior observed during degradation for these hydrogels.